BEIRUT: The death of a Lebanese teen on her way to school in Beirut has highlighted the absence of road safety measures around schools and the delay in the implementation of Lebanon’s new traffic law.
Thimar Nasser, 17, was killed Friday morning when a speeding car hit her around 200 meters away from Fakhreddine Secondary Public School in the crowded Burj Abi Haidar neighborhood of Beirut.
“An expert from the state prosecutor’s office said the driver was driving at a speed of 150 kph,” Thimar’s father, Akram, said.
The speeding car also broke the legs of Thimar’s friend, who was walking with her, uprooted a tree and smashed into a fish cart, a banana cart, the door of a shop and two cars. The driver has been identified as Nadim Harkous.
Listening to Quranic verses on TV, Akram Tuesday received condolences at his house in Burj Abi Haidar, not far from the school of his late daughter.
Akram told The Daily Star that Harkous, currently under arrest, was fully responsible for the accident, saying that he should have been driving at a much lower speed given the crowded area he was in. He said there was also an intersection there. Akram said he would never drop the lawsuit he had filed against Harkous.
The father said his daughter remained on the street for 10-15 minutes after the accident, which occurred around 7:25 a.m. However, he added, he did not blame the school’s administration, as he said it was unlikely many school staff were around so early before classes began.
Akram said he went on foot to the site of the accident after a passer-by gave him a call and then carried his daughter to Al-Makassed Hospital. She was pronounced dead upon arrival at around 7:40 a.m.
In a statement Monday, the Education Ministry said it had carried out an investigation and determined that the school had contacted the Civil Defense when the accident happened.
The statement said the school also informed Thimar’s parents about the matter and that the principal told two senior school officials to head to the accident site.
“The victim’s father made it there before the Civil Defense team and transferred her to the hospital under his responsibility,” the ministry said.
Akram said that by the time the ambulance arrived, he was already at the hospital with his daughter.
Khalil Hamzeh, the head of the Civil Defense headquarters in the Bashoura neighborhood of Beirut, said that a team went to the accident site once they learned of the case.
“The Civil Defense members in the headquarters were sleeping. They woke up and rushed to the scene,” Hamzeh said.
“They found nobody there and were told that the victim’s father transferred her to hospital.”
But the incident has prompted some people to urge the introduction of stricter road safety measures for school children.
Joe Daccache, president of the Lebanese Association for School Safety Awareness, said that municipalities should take measures around schools to protect students.
“The municipalities should have a big role, there should be sidewalks, speed bumps and signs specifying the maximum allowed speed near schools,” Daccache said, adding that the speed of cars within a certain distance from schools should not exceed 30 kph.
“Just like some roads are closed and other measures are taken near the houses of politicians to protect them, there should be a similar emergency plan to protect our children,” Daccache said. “There should be policemen organizing traffic near schools.”
Daccache said the municipality of Beirut had one of the largest budgets of all Lebanon’s municipalities and therefore should have an action plan for safety around schools.
Bilal Hamad, the mayor of Beirut, countered that the Interior Ministry had banned the installation of speed bumps inside neighborhoods for security reasons.
“If we want to install a speed bump near every school, then Beirut would be full of speed bumps. We are only building ones on main roads where cars are cruising at a very high speed,” Hamad said.
Yet the mayor acknowledged that the municipality was not doing enough in terms of installing signs specifying the maximum allowed speed or indicating the presence of a school, and he promised to address the problem.
For the moment, however, Hamad said the security situation was the priority in light of the wave of car bombings that have rocked Lebanon recently.
“We transferred 160 municipal police to the Internal Security Forces over a month ago to participate in maintaining security. In the past, we used to provide the Internal Security Forces with personnel to organize traffic,” he said.
Echoing Hamad, Daccache said that the fact that the security situation was the priority was delaying the implementation of the new traffic law, which was passed by Parliament in 2012.
According to the new law, the most severe offenses, which incur a prison sentence of one month to two years and fines from LL1 million to LL3 million, include exceeding the speed limit by 60 kph, driving without a license and driving with a alcohol level of more than 1 gram per liter of blood.
Under the old law, speeding tickets were set at LL50,000, and those caught driving without a license simply had to pay a minimal fine.
The new law would create a new government-approved driving instructor course at the Technical Center in Dikwaneh. Currently, there is no official teaching program.
“The traffic police do not know whether to follow the new or old traffic law,” Daccache said.
“Many executive decrees to implement the law have yet to be issued, priority is being given to the security situation now”